The Police and Us, Reason to Hope
The relationship between law enforcement and the black community is troubled to say the least. Recently, a number of unarmed black males have been killed by white officers and other armed citizens, sparking riots, marches, protest and counter-protest. In response to these and other grievances, multiple police officers have been ambushed and slain.
The dynamics between the police and other minority communities is no better. Nerves are understandably raw, heels are dug in and bloody red lines of conflict and confrontation have been drawn.
For example, basketball legend Charles Barkley has been sharply critiqued by other blacks for daring to defend Officer Darren Wilson regarding the Michael Brown incident. And New York Mayor Bill De Blasio has been booed and savaged by uniformed officers for not being sufficiently supportive. New York police have further evidenced their displeasure by engaging in a “virtual work stoppage”, i.e., intentionally making fewer low-level arrests and issuing fewer citations.
There is also a recent report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund noting a rise in the number of officers killed by firearms, from 32 in 2013 to 50 in 2014. Clearly, being a police officer is no walk in the park.
Nonetheless, theirs is not the most dangerous profession. “At 21.8 fatalities per 100,000, police and sheriff patrol officers rank last on the list of the top ten most dangerous professions preceded by fishermen, loggers, aircraft pilots, structural iron and steel workers, farmers/ranchers, roofers, electrical power line workers, sales/truck drivers and refuse/recyclable material workers.”
“Even then, the major cause of death for law enforcement is not violent assault but transportation related accidents. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs, number 11 on the list, with a fatality rate of 21.3 per 100,000 are more likely to die from assaults and other violent acts than are police officers.” http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2013/11/12/the-15-most-dangerous-jobs-in-america/.
Ironically, “the National Center for Health Statistics shows that with a fatality rate of 94.1 per 100,000, being a young black male is a far more dangerous situation. The leading cause of death for this group is homicide, over 90% of which is committed by other blacks.” http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db37.pdf.
And African-Americans are not the most endangered minority. Native Americans make up about 0.8% of the population, yet account for 1.9% of the police killings. Thus, they rather than blacks are the minority most likely to be killed by the police. “”http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/24/opinion/moya-smith-native-americans/.
The point here is to neither vindicate nor excoriate anyone. There is more than enough blame to go around. Brothers are their own worst enemy and the police, emboldened by a sense of entitlement and protected by the criminal justice system, do indeed abuse their authority.
The goal is to note that despite it all, there is reason to hope. While hardly perfect and contrary to recent events, police conduct relative to the minority community has significantly improved, one side no longer controls the narrative and never has our interest been more closely aligned.
According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity all things are relative. Not so long ago there were few if any minority police officers. And many of the white ones were card-carrying members of the KKK, willfully committing and shielding all manner of violence and abuse against minority communities. Compared to then, law enforcement is indeed more integrated, better trained, more disciplined and as counter-intuitive as it may sound, less given to racist sentiments and conduct.
In addition, technological advancements have leveled the playing field. In the past when police shootings occurred, the statements and depictions provided by law enforcement held sway. These “official explanations” always favored the police.
But technology in the form of cell phones and cameras has significantly and irrevocably changed this dynamic. Ordinary citizens can now record and preserve police conduct in real-time allowing the world to witness and make up its own mind about any encounter.
And social media facilitates instant dissemination of the recording, world-wide communications and the organization of like-minded interest. In other words, technology no longer permits law enforcement to conceal bad behavior or to conduct business as usual.
Furthermore, both law enforcement and the African-American community are desirous of safe, prosperous neighborhoods. As we have consistently noted, there is not one black community in America that does not know where the crack house is located, who the gang bangers are and who is pushing drugs. Similarly, every police department in the country can identify by name the bad cops within its ranks.
Rather than conflict both groups should seek comity. Instead of strife we must purse agreement. One thing we can all agree on is that no matter the cause or source, criminal and destructive behavior is unacceptable. We are not excused from law-abiding behavior because of racism, past or present. And the police are not unaccountable because they act under color of law. The “don’t snitch” credo to which both camps subscribe is excused by neither badge nor minority status.
As the murder of defenseless, law-abiding black males by the police is wrong, so to is the retaliatory ambush of the police. It is political, social and military suicide; a contest we can not hope to win.
Instead, we strengthen our position by obeying the law, acting in good faith, demanding equal protection of the law and using legal rather than violent means to hold the police accountable. And we change the relationship between the police and the community by opening the lines of communication, talking to each other and developing mutually beneficial and supportive relationships. The goal is to alter the way we view and respond to each other, not as intractable enemies but as fellow human beings.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum